Thursday, February 14, 2008

Long Overdue Tokyo Post

As I stated in a previous post (oh, over a month ago now) I went to Tokyo for New Years. Now, New Years in Japan is a GIANT deal. Its the biggest holiday in Japan (kinda like Christmas in the States), and so theres a lot going on at this time of year. Strangely enough, however, Tokyo is much emptier at this time of year than normal. This is because Japanese people go home (wherever home is) to spend New Years with their families, which means there is a mass exodus out of Tokyo. So imagine these pictures 10 times more crowded, then you've got Tokyo.

We started off by checking into our capsule hotel in Shinjuku. Capsule hotels are a Japan-only phenomenon. Check out my sweet capsule:

Basically its just enough room to lay down comfortably. Theres a big communal shower/bath/sauna (I of course stayed in a ladies only place), and you get a locker to keep your things in. It was a cool experience, and I'm glad I did it, but I'm not sure I would again. Although, it was crazy cheap (about 40 dollars a night, which is super cheap in the heart of Shinjuku).

Next, we were starving, so we (Richie, Troy, Steve and I) stopped for some sushi. Put me on the record as saying Niigata sushi blows Tokyo sushi out of the water. That's right, I said it.

Later we did some exploring in Shinjuku, and found a little shinto shrine tucked away in a back alley. That's one of the things I love about Tokyo. One minute you're surrounded by lights, noise and hostess clubs, and the next you're in a quiet spot looking at an ancient shrine or temple. Its really cool to see such opposites coexist.

Foxes are the messengers of the gods, so this shrine had multiple fox statues. The thing tied to his ear is an omikuji, or a fortune. Everyone at the New Year pays for a little omikuji, which will tell you what your luck will be like in money, work, family, love -- everything. After you read your fortune, you can either take it with you, or leave it at the shrine in the hopes that the gods will either make your fortune come true (if you got a good fortune) or keep it from coming true (if you got a bad fortune).

Omikuji close-up.

We then headed off to the famous Shibuya to check out the busiest intersection in the world. It doesn't look so busy here again because Tokyo is sort of empty (by comparison) at the New Year. Still a cool sight to see.

We ran into this dog and it's old man in Shibuya. The dog's name is Love (Ra-bu in engrish), and as you can see it could RIDE A FREAKING BICYCLE. The dude would hold out some food and the dog would pedal up to get it. Someone get this dog an agent.

Day 2 got started a little late, especially since I somehow managed to lose my bra between my locker and the shower that morning (the only one I brought). So I made a morning trek to the local skivvy shop to get something new. Let me just say now that Japanese bras suck. They are all really cutesy (covered in lace, ribbons, beads -- not my style) and retardedly padded. I found something that would work at least for the next couple of days, but that ended up rubbing me raw in a few places. I cant wait to go back home to shop so I can find clothes that will actually fit me.

After wandering randomly for a bit we headed to Meiji Jingu, which is possibly the most famous shrine in Japan. At the new year literally 100's of thousands (if not millions) of people stream through this shrine to do something called hatsumoude, or the first shrine visit of the new year. Meiji jingu is not the only place to do this. Any shrine will do. But Meiji is probably the most popular. At the shrine, people basically pray that the next year will be a good one, and they give donations to the gods. These donations can be in any amount, but 5 yen and 50 yen coins are especially good luck. Theres a special area fenced off, and people throw their coins/bills there, where the monks make the rounds and pick up the dough. I literally saw more than a few 1 man yen bills, which is roughly equal to 100 dollars, so some people really fork it out.

Here Richie celebrates Shinto. These are the torii at the entrance to the shrine.

And here is the front entrance gate. Notice the pictures of the mice next to the radishes. This is the year of the mouse (its mouse in Japan, not rat), so you see mice everywhere.

Before you enter the gates shown above, you have to wash your hands and your mouth in a fountain nearby to cleanse yourself. you wash your hands first, then your mouth (by putting a little water in your mouth and spitting it out), then you clean off the handle of the cup thingy by running the remaining water down the handle. There's a lot of ritual here.

A nice pic of Steve, Troy and I in front of the main building at Meiji. In front of this building is where everyone throws their money.

This is the awesome view upon exiting Meiji Jingu. So, you have to walk a little ways into the woods (about 5-10 minutes) to get in and out of the shrine. While you're there, you can't see the city at all, and its easy to forget you're right in the middle of Tokyo. I really like how in this picture you can see the giant skyscraper through the traditional torii.

Later that evening we had shabu shabu back in Shinjuku. Shabu shabu is this brilliant Japanese food that basically involves boiling veggies, meat and seafood at your table, dipping it in sauce and chowing down. It doesn't sound thrilling, but trust me, it is. Below is proof of just how thrilling:

After hopping around the city to quite a few places, we ended up at a famous club in Roppongi, called "Gas Panic". Roppongi is the only place to go in Tokyo on New Year's Eve, cause as Tokyo is pretty empty, thats where ALL the foreigners go. And oh my gosh, it was indeed a ridiculous sea of gaijin. Had there been a fire in this club, we all would have died. No question about it.

Here Steve rocks the afro and the finest white-man dance I've ever witnessed.

And here I am, shakin' my thang. Dancing is funnnnn.

For the most part, I didn't take pictures for the rest of the trip, but we mostly did a lot of sitting around on our butt/eating delicious Tokyo grub/going shopping in Harajuku. Yes, that's right, it rocked. Best. New Year. Ever.

I am famous in Niigata

So the musical was in the main Niigata newspaper, the Niigata Nippon. They took photos at the Murakami show and even interviewed me (in Japanese I might add) after the show. The basically just asked how I felt about the show (I said I was very nervous, but very excited and happy to be doing it), and they asked if any of my students came to see it (yes, they did), and the usual questions -- where do you live, where do you work, how old are you, etc. Here is the awesomeness: see for yourself. :-)